Book Review: “Ocean of Life” by Callum Roberts


“Ocean of Life – How our seas are changing” by Callum Roberts was shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books. In an insightful prologue, Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation, outlines his motivations for writing this book and how from his own personal experience, he has seen the seas changing in the past 30 years. Motivated by challenging problems and realising the need for a more multidisciplinary dialogue to take place between scientists, this book aims to take the reader through both the problems and the solutions to the changing seas of the 21st century. The book begins with a history of life on Earth and how through out geological time, the conditions necessary for life evolved. Throughout the first chapter we begin to realise the transient nature of life on Earth with respect to geological processes and time.

Discussing human origins and man’s relationship with the sea; for food and how fishing methods have evolved over time through to the present day.  A shocking but revealing study (Thurstan et. al. 2010) of the landings from bottom trawlers explains the steep decline in fish stocks especially of the larger fish. Then changes due to greenhouse gas emissions on the thermohaline circulation and the consequences of low oxygen zones on the life of the sea are discussed; climate change is already underway. The impacts of sea level rise; the human cost of climate change; ocean acidification to rivers of the world. Oil spills and the threat of pollution; PCBs to plastic pollution to underwater noise, “Mare Incognitum” or “unknown seas” of the future are inevitable, especially with exploitation. This book is a comprehensive and thought provoking summary of the current state of the oceans and in some ways serves to be a much needed warning for the future. But hope is not lost; the following part of the book deals with solutions for the great clean-up. A new deal for the ocean is proposed, solutions are possible for the next hundred years if we make the steer right now. It is also a book which drives one to change. For the ocean activist there are the appendices with a collection of conservation charities to protect the oceans. A persuasive read!

Further Links

Thurstan, R.H., Brockington, S. and Roberts, C.M (2010). The effects of 118 years of industrial fishing on UK bottom trawl fisheries. Nature Communications 1 (15): 1-6.

Lecture by Callum Roberts in English with German

Review by the Guardian


Prof Iain Stewart: Between a rock and a hard place lecture


Prof. Iain Stewart of University of Plymouth speaks about communicating geology in his guest lecture at NUI Galway, organised by Earth and Ocean Science Discipline, Galway Earth and Ocean Society and Galway Geological Association. More information about the lecture can be found on the GGA website.

Book Review: “The Sea Around Us” by Rachel Carson



“We live in a scientific age; yet we assume that knowledge of science is the prerogative of only a small number of human beings, isolated and priest-like in their laboratories. This is not true. The materials of science are the materials of life itself. Science is part of the reality of living; it is the what, the how, and the why of everything in our experience. It is impossible to understand man without understanding his environment and the forces that have molded him physically and mentally. The aim of science is to discover and illuminate truth. And that, I take it, is the aim of literature, whether biography or history or fiction. It seems to me, then, that there can be no separate literature of science. My own guiding purpose was to portray the subject of my sea profile with fidelity and understanding. All else was secondary. I did not stop to consider whether I was doing it scientifically or poetically; I was writing as the subject demanded. The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If they are not there, science cannot create them. If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.”

– Rachel Carson during her acceptance speech of the Non fiction award at the National Book Award 1952

Rachel Carson’s second book in the sea trilogy; “The Sea Around Us” is a classic work published in 1951. Described as one of the most successful books written about the natural world, this is a poetic narrative about the life history of the oceans. The Gray Beginnings shares with us the shadowy, primeval beginnings of the Earth and its early environment, exploring the geological theories as well as the evolutionary milestones throughout the history of life. The Pattern of the Surface starts off at the surface waters of the oceans and wonderful world of the plankton- wandering through the interlocking food webs and seas of the world. The Changing Year poetically talks about the changing realm of the sea; the response of marine life through day and night; seasons; and years.The Sunless Sea is about the history of deep sea exploration and Hidden Lands discusses early hydrographic surveying to chart the depths of the continental shelf. The Long Snowfall details the phenomenon of marine snow and Globigerina oozes. The Birth of an Island and The Shape of the Ancient seas ends the Part One entitled Mother Sea.

The Restless Sea begins with Wind and Water a poetic narrative about the life history of the waves and coastal seas, leads on to Wind, Sun, and the Spinning of the Earth; about ocean currents and their oceanographic discovery. The Moving Tides looks at the tidal rythms and the intertidal creatures. Part Three about Man and the sea about him starts off with The Global Thermostat looks at the close relationship between climate and the pattern of ocean circulation. Wealth from the Salt Seas looks at the minerals in seawater and The Encircling Sea starts off with a quote from Homer and the Ancient Greek view of the ocean. With an Afterword updating some of the science by marine biologist Jeffrey Levinton, this book is an imaginative and sensitively emotional account of the sea around us. An absolute joy to read! 


Americal Scientist

The Guardian

Maerl Documentary Screening at Ryan Institute, NUI Galway



We are pleased to announce that a screening of “Maerl: A Rare Seabed Habitat” will take place at the Ryan Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway on Wednesday 14th October at 7pm. This event has been organised by the NUIG Zoological Society. All welcome to attend!

ECSA55 – Estuarine and Coastal Sciences Conference, London


This week I attended the Estuarine and Coastal Science Association conference- ECSA55 in the Docklands, London. The theme of the conference was “Unbounded boundaries and shifting baselines”- a theme relevant to the changing seas of modern times. The plenary sessions were all very interesting and covered different perspectives to coastal sciences and management. As discussed in the maerl documentary, maerl beds will disappear from their northern range, with kelp disappearing from their southern range. More technical sessions on hydrodynamic- sediment transport modelling ran alongside scientific sessions and a diverse range of disciplines were represented. Having visited the Coral Reefs exhibition at the Natural History Museum in the same visit, the session on the Great Barrier Reef was especially interesting. The water quality at the Great Barrier Reef over the last decade is a major threat to the ecosystem. I have been working on a paper about for submission to the Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science journal and the early career workshop by Elsevier on publishing in scientific jorunals was very useful. Delegates came from all around the world and the most enjoyable conference dinner was aboard the Elizabethan on the River Thames! The river cruise went from Tower Bridge to Westminister to Greenwich and back to Tower Pier. I was pleased to see friends and collegues from my undergraduate and masters days and meet new ones as well! Here are some of the collection of tweet scientific highlights from the conference.

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Book Review: “Mapping the Deep” by Robert Kunzig


“Mapping the Deep” is a book which draws you in to the realm of the deep sea – far from shore. Imagine looking out of the window into a sky filled with the sea, we are taken into the world of the abyss. The author describes the book as a portrait of our understanding of the sea- with its distinct focus on the distant and the unfamiliar making it such a pleasure to discover. Laurence Madin of WHOI describes this popular science book as “The best account of discovery in oceanography I’ve ever read” and the chapters which follow are just as inspiring to read.

mappingthedeep Space and the Ocean narrates the meeting of oxygen to hydrogen and the story of Albert Cheung, the graduate student who first observed water in space. The birth of the solar system and the possible role comets played in bringing water and organic matter onto the Earth are discussed to explain the origins the earth and its ocean basins. Then we start of on a wonderful narrative about the history of early bathymetric mapping and charting in Sounding the depths – from Charles Bonneycastle to the Challenger Expeditions to Atlantis. Introducing marine geologists Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen’s discovery of the V-shaped notch at the top of The Rift in the Atlantic and Hess’s concept of seafloor spreading; the chapter leads to a paradigm shift in earth science to the theory of plate tectonics. Their first bathymetric map of the ocean and its geological features are described in A Map of the World. Turbidity currents and their extraordinary impact on the abyss and the early remote sensing satellites prior to the advent of sonar lead to  Sandwell and Smith’s famous map of the oceans.The Seafloor at Birth goes on to discuss the history of multibeam sonar and the mapping of the US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the quest to understand the birth of the seafloor. Read the rest of this entry